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by Joe Denham

Flux, the debut collection from Vancouver poet Joe Denham, is written in the roughly hewn cadences of work and pain, an all-pervading awareness of mortality, and a quiet sense of the sacred.
The opening sequence of poems, “Night Haul, Morning Set,” explores life aboard a Pacific fishing boat, captured in a series of vividly evoked moments. “The day’s settling like till-silt/but I’ve got one last job to do: link/these skeins into one strong line we can use,” he writes, at once a plainspoken description of the close of day and a statement of poetic purpose.

The settings in this debut collection range from those fishing boats to the streets and alleys of Vancouver. Denham is as comfortable with the daily violence – psychic and actual – of urban life as he is with the small-town world of boats and lines in the water. Junkies and garbage strikes are as strikingly, and lovingly, depicted as “a lakeshore lined with alder, maple, fir.” The pastoral is juxtaposed against a world “ripped on caffeine … lush on home wine and the perfume of a young woman.”

Denham wears his predecessors well. One can hear faint echoes of Purdy and Patrick Lane in the tight, muscular voice, while such poems as “Dowsing” echo with Seamus Heaney. Yet Denham’s voice remains his own. His self-awareness is sometimes too keen, but one expects that in a debut collection. There is also a tendency to settle for generalization over specificity – “Dowsing” would be stronger if the vagueness of lines like “incurable by homeopathy, herbalism, even/orthodox medicine” were grounded in specifics.

Flux concludes with “Two Waters,” a heartbreaking long poem depicting the slow evolution of Sechelt, Denham’s childhood home, from small town to “Suburbia’s/low-swell panic moving in.” An emotional exploration of personal geography, “Two Waters” traces Denham’s life in the changing town, its unsettling fall from grace mirroring his own. No easy answers are offered, merely the observations. It’s a touching and memorable piece.


Reviewer: Rob Wiersema

Publisher: Nightwood Editions


Price: $15.95

Page Count: 96 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88971-194-1

Released: Oct.

Issue Date: 2004-1

Categories: Poetry